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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Makej Projects 

Manual Pick & Place Station 

Written By: Erv Plecter 


Assembling a single electronic board using SMD parts is doable using simple tools with 
tweezers and a fine tip soldering iron. However, it can become tedious after a few boards or 
simply if you start an actual production yourself. 

Also, some parts are really hard to solder by classic means, and I ended up building a reflow 
oven to "bake" my boards. 

If you're not familiar with reflow soldering, I suggest you have a look to this wikipedia article 
for details. 

Reflow Soldering 

For large boards, placing the SMD parts on the solder paste can really be an issue since 
your hands must travel above the board to reach the part location, with risks to drop the part 
and mess all your solder paste stencil work. 

The SMD pick and place station is meant to help the operator traveling above the PCB, pick 
parts using vacuum, and place them with a straight, smooth and accurate vertical movement 
to the exact spot where it's suppose to land. 

Surprisingly enough, that station can be assembled with many classic hardware parts 
available for cheap. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 1 — Manual Pick & Place Station 

• Get started : parts to get 

• To build the pick and place station, you'll need a 30-35 cm furniture leg (square section), a 
TV rotary stand, a pair of ball bearing drawer slides, a set of 6 assembly plates/strips, M5 
screws and nuts (with self lock), a 10 cm piece of aluminium hinge profile tubing and 2 
meter of L shaped aluminium profile. You'll also need a wooden plate or a plank. I used a 
left over filler plank from my ikea kitchen. It's covered with heat resistant vitrified coating 
which makes cleaning very easy. 

• The station is composed of a rotary stand to help orienting the PCB when working on it. It 
also has a traveling dolly mounted on the drawer slides as an arm rest to maintain it above 
the board. Finally, it has a small crank attached to the vertical leg with a vacuum pen 
mounted on a vertical spring loaded slide. This allows to pick the the SMD part using a 
hand or foot controlled vacuum pump then released and placed on the PCB. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 2 

• Cut the board. I wanted the station to be a table top compact tool, so I kept the dimensions 
within 45x35 cm. 

Step 3 

• Install the furniture leg and a set of L shape profile. 

• To drill the L shaped profile, use a punching tool to pilot the drill bit. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 4 

• Trim the screw length on the L rail then place the ball bearing slide and mark the 

Step 5 

• Mark the ball bearing slide position all the way of the L rail. Do the same for the other rail. 

• Then drill the L rail and screw the slides with M5 screws, nuts and washers. 

• Trim the screws. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 6 

• Make sure the slide is leveled, eventually fine tune its position. 

• Then, using some more L profile, cut the traveling dolly mount that will be attached to the 
slide. You'll need 2 pieces, just like for the mount attached to the base. 

• Mark and drill the attachment holes for the dolly mount. 

Step 7 

• Cut another piece of wood plank to build the dolly top and attach it to the L mount you 
attached to the slides in the previous steps. 

• Make sure the whole attachment slides properly. Fine tune the slides horizontal position 
eventually, then a dab of Vaseline oil on the mechanism won't hurt. 

• Take some time to admire your work ! 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 8 

• Build the crank. The assembly metal strips didn't have a central hole so I used a drill press 
to get that done. Make sure you drill them at least by pair ("twin drilling"), both (or more) 
strips being attached by a screw and a nut at each end during the drilling operation. This 
way you make sure the central hole is perfectly centered and identical for each pair. 

• Cut the hinge profile. I used small pieces of about 2.5 cm / 1" long. 

Step 9 


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• Use 2 hinge pieces on the vertical leg. I had some M5 threaded rod in the shop as well as 
some brass blind nuts, so I used that to attach the hinges. 

• The central part of the hinge is a simple piece of steel rod. You can find that in the 
hardware store as well. 

• The small hole in the hinge piece will be used later to lock the rod using headless screws. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 10 

• Drill and tap both the hinge part and central rod. 

• Install the other hinge parts on the central rod then lock the latter with the 2 threaded holes 
you made just before. I used M3 screws for that. 

• Now you can start assembling the crank on the mobile part of the hinge. 

Step 11 

• Cut another 2 hinge parts to attach 
at the end of the crank 

• Place a piece of metal tubing at the 
end of the crank as the base of the 
vacuum pen. You can also use junk 
ball-point pen bodies for that 

• At the bottom of the pen I placed a 
spring salvaged from a retractable 
pen so that the vacuum pen 
retracts when released. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 12 

Build the vacuum pump. 

• I bought a 10€ aquarium air pump at the local pet supply shop. It can easily be turned 
into a vacuum pump because, obviously, air that is pumped out must be sucked in from 
the other end of the pump. 

• On the first picture, you can see the hole near the red coil that runs the membrane 
pump at AC mains frequency (50 or 60 Hz). 

• The pump was provided with a small air flow tap/limiter which I decided to re-use. I 
placed a piece of plastic tubing to allow the pump to suck air from the outside of the 

• Then I drilled a hole on the top lid to allow the tubing to exit the casing. 

Step 13 



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Finally, I used some epoxy putty and 2 part steel epoxy glue to seal the air intake. 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 14 

Final touches : 

• I first tested the pump using the vacuum suckers I got with a manual pick and place pen 

• Then I used a medical syringe needle as the end of my vacuum pen. I cut the needle 
with a dremel then mounted the vacuum suckers at the end of the syringe. You can find 
vacuum sucker sets at, or just buy a cheap manual vacuum pen and 
re-use the suckers. 

• I recycled the needle protective cap as well, to make a mount and spacer for the air flow 
tap. The pump came with a nice 3m long silicone flexible tube that mounted perfectly on 
the protective cap I cut. You can fill it with some disposable tissues or anything that 
could act as a dust filter. 

Step 15 

• Pump control switch: 

• The pump is a mains-powered device, so I used a junction box to hold a sturdy, 
momentary pushbutton switch used to turn the pump on and off. A foot pedal switch 
could be used, but I found having everything on the table and using my other hand very 

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Manual Pick & Place Station 

Step 16 

Final touches: 

• A milk bottle cap was deep enough to hold the station accessories like vacuum pen tips 
and suckers. 

• Add some rubber tape or mat under the station so that it's totally steady during 

Step 17 

• And you're done! Time to assemble 
some PCBs! 

• I hope you enjoyed this guide and 

st generated on 2012-10-31 11:59:54 PM. 

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